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Bridging the Digital Divide by Ensuring Broadband on Indian Tribal Lands

March 18, 2009 – The digital divide between America’s well-to-do regions and its rural and tribal countryside were on display in the first panel of the federal government’s Tuesday public meeting, in Las Vegas, on spending the broadband stimulus.



News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 2, Session 1

March 18, 2009 – The digital divide between America’s well-to-do regions and its rural and tribal countryside were on display in the first panel of the federal government’s Tuesday public meeting, in Las Vegas, on spending the broadband stimulus.

The first of three panel discussions during the joint meeting of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service March 17 focused on the state of “vulnerable populations” within the United States, the need to drive demand for broadband, and the role of strategic institutions.

Jeff Sandstrom of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development said his state had witnessed an unprecedented population explosion in the context of “a large percentage of federally-owned land than any other state in the nation.”

A majority of the rural Nevadas have yet to access broadband, said Sandstrom, even though fiber networks laid down during the “.com” boom of the 1990s had provided that technological hope.

“The debate we are having here is one of access, not shortage or need or applications,” he said.

Finding ways to extend broadband would play a major role in Nevada’s “economic revolution,” Sandstrom said, particularly with the state’s focus on solar and geothermal power.Additionally, Nevada’s wildlife, agriculture, e-learning, telemedicine and business communities would benefit from better broadband, he said.

“The residents of Nevada would have a just access to a quality of life,” he said.

The Nevada Rural Housing Authority’s Gary Longacre decried the disparity of access to broadband between Nevada’s tribal areas and the rest of the country.

“Many of the communities in such contexts are either unserved or underserved,” he said. It is “too expensive to build the last mile.”

But rural and tribal communities still need broadband to access essential services.

Karen Twenhafel of Telecom Consulting Service, representing the National Tribal Telecommunication Association, said the stimulus funding for broadband was “extending an expensive opportunity.”

Eight American tribes, she said, already have their own telephone companies and continue to pursue “self-provision of communication services.”

Others among the Indian tribal lands – at least 29 percent, she said – still do not have access to broadband technology. “For 4.3 million Americans, this type of participation is simply not available.”

Seventy-five years after the passage of the Communications Act of 1934, there is still no formal tracking of telecommunications conditions, she said.

“In spending the broadband stimulus, priority ought to be given to service areas where the penetration rate of those service areas are below 15% or below of the national average of those services,” she said. Tribal lands should be designated as “separate and exclusive service areas.”

“We can no longer have applications that serve surrounding lands, but not the tribal lands,” she said. She also said that tribal governments should be consulted throughout the process.

Valerie Fast Horse, council member and director of information technology for the Coeur d’Alene tribe, continued with panel’s concern for broadband for tribal communities. “The communications of this nation is only as strong as its weakest link.”

She said that tribal and rural areas had been left behind in communication development. What is needed now, she said, is infrastructure “with a long shelf-life” – referring to fiber-optic technology appropriate for delivering broadband into rural communities.

“True communication development cannot happen if we only focus on capitalizing infrastructure and equipment, while ignoring our human spirit,” she said.

Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, noted that 1, 200 miles of fiber had already been laid in Nevada, and that it could aid transition into more widespread broadband – and public spending on broadband deployment.

During the public comment session, several panelists agreed upon the need to carry out environmental impact assessments and to development new energy sources, as part of wider broadband deployment.

Also, computer pricing issues might have to be addressed in order to help drive public demand for broadband technology.

A member of the audience warned that inner-city communities must not be neglected in an effort to mitigate rural and tribal needs.

The validity of some U.S. Census Bureau data validity was questioned, too, with Twenhafel saying that “phone penetration data is normally below what is reported in census data.”

Several individuals at the meeting said that wireless technologies were an important component of meeting the needs of rural and tribal areas.

Digital Inclusion

NTIA Seeks Comment on How to Spend $2.5 Billion in Digital Equity Act

National Telecommunications and Information Administration is seeking comment on how to structure the programs.



Photo of Veneeth Iyengar of ConnectLA

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Wednesday that it is seeking comment on how to structure the $2.5 billion that the Digital Equity Act provides to promote digital equity and inclusion. 

As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Digital Equity Act consists of two sub-programs, the State Digital Equity Capacity grant and the Digital Equity Competitive grant. Comments will guide how the NTIA will design, regulate, and evaluate criteria for both programs. 

“We need to hear directly from those who are most impacted by the systemic barriers that prevent some from fully utilizing the Internet,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said Wednesday at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Net Inclusion event in San Antonio. 

See Commerce Secretary Raimondo’s remarks at Net Inclusion:

The request for comment is part of NTIA’s strategy to hear diverse perspectives in implementing its goal to ensure every American has the skills and capacity needed to reap the benefits of the digital economy, stated a press release. 

The $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity grant will fund implementation of state digital equity plans which will strategically plan how to overcome barriers faced by communities seeking to achieve digital equity.  

Simply making investments in broadband builds is not enough, said Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of ConnectLA, speaking at a Brookings Insitution event in December. Bringing digital equity means “driving adoption, digital skills, and doing the kinds of things that we need to do to tackle the digital divide.” 

The $1.25 billion Digital Equity Competitive grant program will fund anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and nonprofits, in offering digital inclusion activities that promote internet adoption. 

“Community-anchor institutions have been and are the connective tissue that make delivering high-speed internet access possible,” said Alan Davidson, head of the NTIA at AnchorNets 2022 conference. 

This announcement follows dissent on the definition of digital discrimination. Commenters to the Federal Communications Commission disagree on whether the intent of a provider should be considered when determining if the provider participated in digital discrimination. There has been no response from the FCC. 

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Innovation Fund’s Global Approach May Improve O-RAN Deployment: Commenters

The $1.5 billion Innovation Fund should be used to promote global adoption, say commenters.



Illustration about intelligent edge computing from Deloitte Insights

WASHINGTON, February 2, 2023 – A global approach to funding open radio access networks will improve its success in the United States, say commenters to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The NTIA is seeking comment on how to implement the $1.5 billion appropriated to the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund as directed by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The grant program is primarily responsible for supporting the promotion and deployment of open, interoperable, and standards-based radio access networks. 

Radio access networks provide critical technology to connect users to the mobile network over radio waves. O-RAN would create a more open ecosystem of network equipment that would otherwise be reliant on proprietary technology from a handful of companies.  

Global RAN

Commenters to the NTIA argue that in order for O-RAN to be successful, it must be global. The Administration must take a “global approach” when funding projects by awarding money to those companies that are non-U.S.-based, said mobile provider Verizon in its comments.  

To date, new entrants into the RAN market have been the center for O-RAN development, claimed wireless service provider, US Cellular. The company encouraged the NTIA to “invest in proven RAN vendors from allied nations, rather than focusing its efforts on new entrants and smaller players that lack operational expertise and experience.” 

Korean-based Samsung Electrontics added that by allowing trusted entities with a significant U.S. presence to compete for project funding and partner on those projects, the NTIA will support standardizing interoperability “evolution by advancing a diverse global market of trusted suppliers in the U.S.” 

O-RAN must be globally standardized and globally interoperable, Verizon said. Funding from the Public Wireless Innovation Fund will help the RAN ecosystem mature as it desperately needs, it added.  

Research and development

O-RAN continues to lack the maturity that is needed for commercial deployment, agreed US Cellular in its comments. The company indicated that the complexity and costliness of system integration results from there being multiple vendors that would need to integrate but are not ready for full integration. 

Additionally, interoperability with existing RAN infrastructure requires bi-lateral agreements, customized integration, and significant testing prior to deployment, the comment read. The complicated process would result in O-RAN increasing the cost of vendor and infrastructure deployment, claimed US Cellular, directly contrary to the goals of O-RAN. 

Several commenters urged the NTIA to focus funding projects on research and development rather than subsidizing commercial deployments.  

The NTIA is already fully engaged in broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas through its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, said Verizon. The Innovation Fund will better advance its goals by funding projects that accelerate the solving of remaining O-RAN technical challenges that continue to delay its deployment, it continued. 

US Cellular argued that the NTIA should “spur deployment of additional independent testing and certification lab facilities… where an independent third party can perform end to end testing, conformance, and certification.” 

The Innovation Fund should be used to focus on technology development and solving practical challenges, added wireless trade association, CTIA. Research can focus on interoperability, promotion of equipment that meets O-RAN specifications, and projects that support hardware design and energy efficiency, it said. 

Furthermore, CTIA recommended that the Administration avoid interfering in how providers design their networks to encourage providers to adopt O-RAN in an appropriate manner for their company. Allowing a flexible, risk-based approach to O-RAN deployments will “help ensure network security and stability,” it wrote. 

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CES 2023: NTIA to Address Broadband, Spectrum, and Privacy, Says Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations.



Photo of NTIA Adminstrator Alan Davidson

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s 2023 priorities will include the funding and facilitation of states’ broadband deployment programs, the development of a national spectrum policy, and actions to protect the privacy of marginalized groups, said Administrator Alan Davidson at the Consumer Electronics Show on Saturday.

The NTIA’s most high-profile task is to oversee the operations of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, a $42.45 billion slush fund for broadband-infrastructure deployments which will be divided among the governments of states and U.S. territories. Those governments will administer final distribution of the BEAD funds in accordance with the NTIA’s guidelines.

“This is our generation’s big infrastructure moment,” Davidson said. “This is our chance to connect everybody in the country with what they need to thrive in the modern digital economy, and we are going to do it.”

Davidson reiterated his agency’s stated intention to develop a comprehensive national spectrum strategy to facilitate the various spectrum interests of government and private industry. To allocate spectrum in a manner that fulfills federal needs and stimulates the growth of innovators, largely in the sector of 5G, the NTIA – the administrator of federally used spectrum – must coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission – the administrator of other spectrum.

Calling for a national privacy law, Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations. He stated that the NTIA will, possibly within weeks, request public comment on “civil rights and privacy.”

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